The traditional eating pattern of people from the Japanese island of Okinawa from the Ryukyu Island group is believed to have given its inhabitants one of the longest life expectancies in the world and low rates of lifestyle diseases like heart disease and some cancers.  It’s one of the world’s 5 Blue Zones – where people live longer, and more people live to 100 years or more.

So, what do the Okinawan people eat?  Not the usual Japanese diet high in rice and fish.  The staple is a purple sweet potato, a large amount of yellow, orange and green vegetables like bitter melon, shitake mushrooms, garlic, turmeric, and plenty of legumes including soy beans, seaweed, and with only small amounts of fish.  When they eat rice, it is brown rice. Soy foods like tofu and miso soup are included, too. And while pork is the preferred meat, with every part of it eaten including ears, feet and offal, it’s only eaten on ceremonial occasions.

Drinks are water and green tea.

And what don’t they eat?  They eat less of everything – the average energy intake is about 7500kJ/day which results in a body mass index (BMI) at the low end of normal – 20kg/m2.  They eat few grains, few sugars, less meat, poultry and eggs, less dairy and no pickled vegies or alcohol.

It’s quite a restrictive eating pattern and is low in calcium and iron which could cause health issues for young women and result in low bone density.  Carbohydrates are restricted, too, so it would be difficult to feel energised if you did plenty of vigorous exercise.

In recent years, the Okinawan eating pattern has changed towards Japanese and Western eating which is resulting in a reduction in life span.

Hara hachi bu

The philosophy of the Okinawans and eating is to “eat until you are eight parts out of ten full”.

“Eat until you are eight parts out of ten full”

To do this they eat slowly and mindfully, enjoying their food and considering when they feel full enough, giving their bodies the time to let them tell them they are full.  This is great advice.  We should all take more time over our food!


Besides a healthy, although somewhat restricted eating pattern, Okinawan people have a few lifestyle pointers the rest of us could benefit from.

Okinawans have a strong social network, called “moai”, which provides emotional and financial support into old age, so they don’t experience a lot of stress.

They also try to be likable and to like others, with young and old spending time together.

The have a strong purpose in life called “ikigai” and are clear about why they get up each morning.  (Why did you get up this morning?)  As well as having no time urgency. (When was the last time you didn’t feel rushed?)

Staying active

People in Okinawa garden and walk constantly over their life.  And with traditions of eating and relaxing on mats on the floor, they get up and down off the floor many times a day which helps maintain strength and balance.

Okay, let’s recap – how to live like an Okinawan

  • Take your time when you eat
  • Eat mindfully and don’t overeat
  • Base meals and snacks on nutrient rich vegetables
  • Eat plenty of legumes and soy beans, and soy products like tofu and miso
  • Go easy on meat, poultry, fish and eggs
  • Stay connected to your family and community
  • Be gently active – garden and walk
  • Relax, don’t stress or rush
  • Like others and be likeable

Take the best parts and add them to your healthy lifestyle!

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Post byDale Cooke

I'm a nutritionist, dietitian and personal trainer with 29 years of experience helping people improve their health. I really like using a non-diet philosophy to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Can I help you improve your health?